Learn To Spin
By Anne Field Publisher David Bateman RRP $45
Spinning’s popularity with the general crafting population has had its up and downs, but for Anne Field it has been a constant since 1962, when she first spotted her neighbours spinning and decided to give it a go herself.
Now an internationally renowned spinner and weaver based in Christchurch, and author of more than seven books, Anne has taken her skills into the realm of the artist. But she has not forgotten those early years of learning how to turn raw fleece into beautiful yarn. She says her latest book, Learn to Spin, is what she needed herself back then, when published material on the subject was scarce.
Learn to Spin is a colourful, attractive and informative guide covering the basics of the spinning process and much more, including preparation of fleeces, different spinning methods and how spinning wheels work, drawing on Anne’s more than 50 years of experience working with fibre. It features a variety of fibres other than wool now available to spinners, such as alpaca, mohair, silk and flax, but also focuses on different sheep breeds and the characteristics of the wool they produce.
The instructions are clear and well-illustrated, but with plenty of ‘‘problem solving’’ sidebars attesting to the time and practice needed for proficiency in any craft.
Several knitting and weaving projects are included, even one to showcase the unique style of your early yarns. As Anne says, these will have a texture you may never achieve again, even if you try.
Early in her book Anne describes spinning as a meditative pastime which has soothed her soul, and this has no doubt been a blessing in recent months. Her studio and precious loom in the Arts Centre were destroyed in the February earthquake, but she is continuing her work out of a temporary studio at her home.
Women who sew together, stick together. Alison Wilson’s Monday night embroidery class is a case in point. A core group of women have been meeting for years – literally. They have followed Alison from schools to community halls, weathering the waxing and waning of night class popularity, the challenges of government funding shortfalls and, more recently, the dramas of earthquake damaged venues.
Alison is a supremely talented woman. She is a very skilled embroiderer, but what takes her from good to great is her ability as a teacher. The women in her class all rave about her and the fact they keep coming back and back . . . and back, shows that there’s something special going on. This isn’t your ordinary, every day night class. Alison loves what she does, and it shows.
Alison began her career as a ‘‘journeywoman’’, serving an apprenticeship in dressmaking. She didn’t get any teaching qualifications (‘‘you had to study Home Sciences for that’’) but on the back of her experience she got a job teaching a dressmaking class at night school. For the first few years, most of her students were older than she was. That was 50 years ago. More recently (about 30 years ago) she made the switch to teaching embroidery, after completing the prestigious two-year London City and Guilds Embroidery course.
‘‘I was talking with a woman who comes along to one of my classes and she mentioned her son was now 50. She joined my class to learn how to make him shorts when he was in kindergarten,’’ says Alison.
Maxine Kissling started with Alison in 2003. That’s the date on her sampler, which is the first piece of work you do in Alison’s class if you’re a beginner. ‘‘I regard this as ‘my time’. I love sewing and this class gives me the chance to be creative,’’ says Maxine. ‘‘Everyone needs to do something creative. You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to have a good teacher.’’
Gina Walsh joined to learn bullion roses. For the uninitiated, bullion roses are the sort of thing you’d see on smocking (and for those who don’t know what smocking is, you can get up to speed with a quick Google search). Three years later, she’s still here. ‘‘Alison keeps bringing out more and more interesting projects to do.’’
Thyra Colsell joined the group two years ago, having just emigrated from South Africa.
‘‘I’ve always had an interest in sewing and these classes gave me a chance to get out and meet people.’’
Eileen Whitmore worked out she’s been coming along to Alison’s classes for at least 10 years. She had a stroke 13 years ago and started embroidery for something to do. For her, it’s relaxing and enjoyable and it helps that ‘‘Alison is one of the best teachers in New Zealand’’.
By comparison, Donna Bruce is a newbie. She’s only been in the class for the past nine weeks, though she has done other classes with Alison. ‘‘I’m stalking her,’’ Donna jokes.
It’s the combination of creativity and companionship which makes this group so successful. ‘‘It’s the fun we have, even though we only see each other once a week,’’ says Jeannie Moeller, who has been coming for at least six years.
During the past 12 months, the classes have taken on a new dimension – as a refuge from all the earthquake madness. Until last September, Lola Grocott and Ann Haase had been neighbours for about 37 years. These days their houses are within the red zone and they now live in different suburbs. While a lot has changed in their lives, Monday night embroidery has stayed the same. It’s that continuity which many of the group say they have found comforting.
‘‘Going to embroidery is a normal thing to do. While all the chaos is going on it’s good to catch up and share stories,’’ says Thyra.
‘‘The earthquakes have made it hard for people to concentrate,’’ says Alison. ‘‘But just getting out of the house is a good thing, even if you aren’t managing to keep up with your homework.’’
Yes, there is homework, but you don’t see anyone complaining.
Alison is so passionate about what she does that she can’t envisage a time when she will stop teaching.
‘‘I’m going to have to be told when I am too old to teach . . . though I think this lot would be too scared to tell me, even if I was.’’